The Gidget Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation that needs to be more of a household name in Australia. Supporting the emotional wellbeing of expectant and new parents, it provides vital resources and support for women, men and families experiencing perinatal depression and anxiety...
Arabella Gibson is the CEO of The Gidget Foundation and a mother of twins. She has experienced firsthand the emotional and physical rollercoaster having children brings, and has a lot of realistic and thought-provoking tips on how to manage the daily juggle of work and kids while prioritising mental health and wellbeing. “There is a lot of denial around perinatal depression and anxiety. It’s actually the braver and stronger person that asks for help. We need to change the stigma around PNDA so that instead of feeling shame, those that speak out, feel pride.” We loved catching up with Arabella and getting more insight into The Gidget Foundation’s incredible work with perinatal depression and anxiety, how she manages her own stress and overwhelm, and what we can all do to better support new mothers in times of need. Find out more information on The Gidget Foundation here or by calling 1300 851 758.
You’re a mother of two twins – how did you get support in the pre and post-natal period?
When I was about 25 weeks pregnant, I couldn’t walk more than 10 metres without either being in extreme agony from a dislocated hip or vomiting from the constant Hyperemesis Gravidarum I was affected by! It wasn’t pretty – I was limping whilst clutching a plastic bag at the ready, everywhere I went. It was then that I realised we were in for a rough road! The hormones were already playing havoc with my body which simply wasn’t built to carry two babies, two sacs and two umbilical cords. Earlier that year, my husband had donated some funds from our family business to a local preschool to support their fundraiser. The head of the P&C also happened to be a GP and, as my luck would have it, she was a mother to triplets! She wrote to my husband upon hearing of our impending twins and said that he must under ALL circumstances throw as much money as possible at as many resources as we could find! Living on the other side of the world in London with no family around at the time, I was grateful for this sound (and necessary) advice. Needless to say, my husband said that he wanted us to remember the good times of having tiny babies and so we had a lot of support, particularly at night when it was trickiest.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
Been easier on myself. Not rush so much. Enjoy the moment more. And I never would have done sit-ups had I realised that I had a 12cm separation of my stomach muscles! But that’s another story.
As a CEO and mother, how do you keep the wheels turning?
I’m not quite sure but I am annoyingly organised.
What are your top time management tips?
Look after your staff. All the time. Compliment them and build them up. People who feel valued will always do their very best. And a great team makes a leader excel. Give more than you take. Always. And in everything you do. Understand the numbers. Go through line by line so you know every single aspect of your organisation. It’s the little things that matter. Write thank-you notes. Recognise small wins. And value collaboration beyond everything else.
What do you prioritise and what do you let slide?
I don’t let much slide but annoyingly lately I feel like I’ve let my fitness slide. It’s time to reprioritise! My mum told me a great piece of advice the other day, she said, “Invest in the people who will be at your funeral.” It’s a bit morbid, but it’s true. We invest so much in many and never enough in those who we are closest to.
You’ve said you used to be very much a ‘yes’ person. How have you learnt to the power of “no”?
I still struggle with saying no because I don’t like to disappoint so instead I try to move the goalposts so that I can achieve things in a more manageable timeline!
Why do you think there is shame associated with perinatal depression and anxiety?
Because people are afraid to admit defeat or what they may think is failure. There is a lot of denial around perinatal depression and anxiety. It’s actually the braver and stronger person that asks for help. We need to change the stigma around PNDA so that instead of feeling shame, those that speak out, feel pride.
In 2018, you hiked 135km’s from Cape to Cape in WA to fundraise for the Gidget Foundation – tell us about this experience?
It was the best thing I did that whole year. And I am going to try and do a similar hike every two years. It was so cathartic. It was very tough but there were some very funny and very emotional moments too. I highly recommend it to anyone interested. You can find out more here.
You’ve said: “I am regularly not present” – something we can all relate to. How do you deal with mother’s guilt?
I just tell myself that it makes my children more resilient when I mess up! For example, I forgot to finalise my daughter’s online school lunch order this week so she went without lunch. Instead of just being hungry she had to problem solve. She asked her brother to share some of his lunch and then visited the school office to see if they had anything to offer her! I decided that rather than feeling like a terrible mother, I was proud that my daughter hadn’t fallen apart and gone hungry! It’s all about how you view things. Glass half full or glass half empty!
“ We need to be more real. There is a stigma because people are scared. Those who do ‘bounce-back’ are the first to ‘advertise’ it and therefore those that don’t ‘bounce-back’ feel a sense of failure. We have to embrace our imperfections because they make us who we are ”
You often refer to Oscar Wilde’s words: “Be yourself, everyone else is taken”. How does this quote influence your mood/wellbeing?
This quote reminds me to value humour in my life. And it makes me feel happy in my own skin.
Can you share with us a story that stands out since you started?
This email says it all: Hi, I’m in the pub having lunch and your TV ad with the woman at the sink and the dad at the clothesline came on. 1) A bunch of burly blokes took it real serious, and the mood in the room chilled for a while. It’s a clever and accessible message. 2) I nearly cried, it could have been my family…. Rather it was. My kids lost their mum because we never got onto it successfully. Thank you, keep it up, and good luck.
What are some of the symptoms we should be aware of?
• Inability to enjoy activities you previously enjoyed
• Unable to concentrate, make decisions or get things done
• High arousal level and irritability
• Physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, constant headaches, sweaty hands
• Feeling numb, hopeless and remote from family and friends
• Feeling out of control, or ‘crazy’, even hyperactive
• Unable to rest even when the baby is sleeping; tired on awakening
• Nightmares and/or flashbacks of difficult birth events
• Avoiding situations that remind you of the birth
• Thoughts of harm befalling yourself, baby or partner
• Feelings of guilt, shame, or repetitive thoughts
• Feeling trapped or in a dark hole or tunnel with no escape
• Feelings of grief, loss, anger, tearfulness
• Feeling lethargic or hyperactive
There’s a lot of pressure on women to “bounce back” after the birth of their children – how did society get it so wrong? Why is there still so much stigma attached to perinatal depression and anxiety?
We need to be more real. There is a stigma because people are scared. Those who do ‘bounce-back’ are the first to ‘advertise’ it and therefore those that don’t ‘bounce-back’ feel a sense of failure. We have to embrace our imperfections because they make us who we are.
How do you personally tackle feelings of anxiety or feeling blue?
It depends on the time of day. Sleep is critical for me! If I am burning the candle at both ends, then the wheels can fall off quickly. I try hard to get eight hours every single night. If I just need a lift then I turn on upbeat music, really loud! And exercise is a huge mood booster of course, so I walk the dog when I can.
How can we all support new mothers more?
I think ‘listening’ is really underrated. There is much said about asking people how they are, how they are feeling, are they ok but rarely will someone tell you how they genuinely feel. Through simple, normal conversation, we can pick up on someone’s tone and their general feelings simply by listening carefully. That then opens up the opportunity for genuine communication. Go for a walk with a mum. I guarantee that both you and she will feel better after getting some fresh air in the sunshine.